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House Passes Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana at Federal Level

The U.S. Capitol during a morning rainstorm on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 25, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

The House on Friday passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, the first time either legislative chamber has passed a measure to do so.

The lower chamber voted 228-to-164 to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which aims to “address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs.”

Only five Republicans voted yes on the legislation, and six Democrats voted against it.

“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health. Whatever one’s views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrests, prosecution, and incarceration at the Federal level has proven unwise and unjust,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat.

“Millions of Americans’ lives have been upended as a result of convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and the racial disparities in conviction rates for those offenses are as shocking as they are unjust,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Marijuana use remain criminalized at the federal level, but 36 states have legalized medical cannabis and 15 states have legalized recreational cannabis for adult use. The District of Columbia legalized recreational marijuana in 2015, although selling the drug remains illegal and smoking in public is still banned.

The MORE Act expunges prior marijuana convictions and requires new sentencing hearings for those imprisoned with marijauna convictions. The law also takes marijuana off the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties connected to manufacturing, distributing, or possessing marijuana.

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